Arrival, part six

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They continued waiting while the sun set far too slowly. The heat combined with humidity soon made them sweat. The loss of water eventually had Arthur thirsty and with thirst came irritation.

After an eternity in the heat he was allowed to approach the tables. About to copy the motions of the traders he'd seen going through the procedure earlier the commanding officer suddenly blocked his way. A lengthy smattering of words followed a smug smile.

"He wants to know what your business is here," Harbend translated.

"That's not all of it, is it?" No bloody way that question takes a speech to deliver!

"We do not need to..."

"All of it, now!"

Harbend shrugged, showing surprise at the sudden edge of command in Arthur's voice. "If that is your wish. He asked why he should let a," he halted momentarily, "jester like you pass as you are obviously not a decent trader."

Arthur's irritation rose but he fought it down. The uniformed excuse for an untrained dog would pay later. "Tell them I trade in knowledge."

Harbend hastily obliged. The officer sniffed but seemed content with the answer.

Two bags were brought from a nearby table and emptied and the soldiers rummaged through its contents. They looked up in surprise when they didn't find any of the items they were used to see accompanying the visiting traders and were barely satisfied with checking the objects Arthur carried on his person. The bags were eventually loaded onto the waiting cart and the commander started waving Arthur through.

He didn't move and confronted the commander with a haughty smile.

You think I've been preoccupied enough to spend three hours without noticing the lack of efficiency you show? Military or no military, Arthur always kept a good eye for evaluating personnel, and the apes here had the stomach to insult him! I don't fear you. I don't fear anything any longer. You think you can threaten someone who dies every night? I'll teach you fear!

"I take it you're done with my luggage. Now, could your servants please proceed to check that my very clothes won't conjure a demon at my command?"

He received a blank stare in return, and Harbend hesitantly started to translate.

"Why do you anger the staff-master?" he asked when finished.

"I just dislike him. Could you just tell them to be quick about it?"

Harbend shrugged and complied. The man Harbend had identified as staff-master retorted, anger clearly heard in his voice and Arthur saw his eyes thinning and knew that the bait had been taken.

"He says you had better reconsider your attitude or they will confiscate your goods."

Arthur laughed softly, but he remembered the lesson he intended to teach the uniformed idiots facing him and kept most of his mirth to himself.

"Tell the staff-master he should show less interest in my goods and more care for his horses. Tell him that it would be unfortunate if all of his men had a riding accident later today."

Harbend gave Arthur a questioning look, suddenly looking afraid. "Why..."

"Just do it!"

When Harbend was finished the staff-master was white with rage, hand slowly searching at his side. Arthur stared the man in his eyes, smiling broadly and it was with grim satisfaction he saw rage giving way to fear. Mouth slightly open, eyes no longer able to keep contact, a nervous flicker of the nostrils. Yes! The pig would break.

"I don't have all day. Either check my clothes or tell your trash to get the hell out of my sight!" Arthur waved at the cart. "When I return next time I expect your lackeys to have a better vehicle waiting for me."

Harbend looked at Arthur in frightened wonder and reluctantly translated. The effect was astonishing. All soldiers grabbed for their weapons, but when Arthur took one step forward they backed away realizing they no longer had the support of their own officer. Two of them looked around in bewilderment, but no help was to be found.

Arthur pointed at the cart. He growled a command he knew Harbend couldn't understand but the soldiers grasped the meaning of it and moved out of Arthur's range as if he had threatened them.

"Harbend, I guess we're on our way then," Arthur said and climbed the cart without turning his head.

Harbend ran to Arthur's side nervously looking over his shoulder, but the crossbow quarrel he seemed to expect never flew and they were soon driving towards the ridge. They had almost reached it before Harbend dared to break the silence.

"Did you come here to die?" Harbend yelled. "Are you carrying your funeral altar among your wares, or by the gods, what were you thinking of?"

Arthur gave him a pained look. "They needed a lesson in attitude. I was the teacher they waited for."

"But what was it all about? I saw the fear of death in their faces."

Arthur turned. "Oh, they were probably only embarrassed," he said.

"Embarrassed?" Harbend was still livid with fear and rage. "Gods, do not try that on me!"

"They should be. Some time ago troops from here reportedly experienced a riding accident. Official version, of course."

Arthur could hear short, heavy breaths slowly returning to normal. Harbend was calming down somewhat. "I heard about that. What happened?"

"The normal. They fell off their horses."

"How many?" Harbend asked.

Arthur glanced at the tanned face beside him. "Two thousand soldiers, all at the same time. All fatally. Very unfortunate."

Harbend was silent for a while. "That was still a dangerous thing to do," he said. "You have been here for less than a day and you already start making enemies."

Arthur didn't respond. Harbend was probably right, but Arthur had felt out of balance for a long while now. He was more concerned with his own lack of interest in what he saw, heard and smelled when arriving at a new world for the first time. He used to pay attention to his surroundings, but the last six months had passed as if wrapped in a blanket woven from strands of oblivion, and now he rarely bothered taking in what wasn't born from wrath. Danger, at least, made him feel alive.

But then, if he was to be honest, the men manning the gun towers would never have allowed any harm to come to the famous Arthur Wallman. Almost with regret he admitted that he had never been in any real danger.

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